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Gaza security forces assault journalists amid power crisis protests

Jan. 13, 2017 11:14 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 15, 2017 6:50 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Amid widespread protests on Thursday night regarding the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, reports have emerged of Hamas security forces assaulting journalists covering the protests, as well as temporarily detaining an opposition leader in the besieged enclave.

Crowded marches had set off in the northern Gaza Strip, mainly in the Jabaliya refugee camp, demanding a solution to the power crisis which has left the besieged coastal enclave with less than half of the electricity it needs.

Witnesses told Ma’an that during the marches, Gaza security forces opened fire in the air to suppress protesters “to prevent protesters from reaching the electricity company in Jabaliya.”

In the same march, Gaza police officers allegedly assaulted journalists covering the event.

AFP photographer Muhammad al-Baba told Ma’an that “members of the security forces beat me while covering the Jabaliya march at the electricity company headquarters injuring me in the head and I was taken to a hospital for treatment.”

AFP photographer Muhammad al-Baba

AP journalist Fares al-Ghoul told Ma’an that “members of security put a gun on my chest and forced me to give them my cell phone.” Al-Ghoul added that forces returned his cell phone during the incident.

Hundreds of Gazans took part in the march near Jabaliya camp, which was organized by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

Separately, the son of Gaza spokesperson for the Fatah movement Fayiz Abu Aita told Ma’an that internal security forces arrested his father from his house in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip following a gathering of Fatah and Islamic Jihad leaders at Abu Aita’s house Thursday.

Fatah sources told Ma’an that Hamas security forces released Abu Aita at 1 a.m. on Friday after holding him for several hours.

Coordinator of national and Islamic forces Mustafa al-Duqus pointed out to Ma’an that the Hamas movement had earlier in the day “held the Fatah movement responsible for the protests" around the electricity cuts in the besieged enclave. However, it was unclear as of Friday if the Fatah official's detention was connected to the ongoing protests in northern Gaza.
Fayiz Abu Aita

The Gaza Ministry of Interior released a statement Friday morning “confirming its respect for journalists and the freedom of journalistic work.”

The ministry’s spokesperson Iyad al-Bazm said that AFP photographer Muhammad al-Baba sustained “an unintentional bruise in the face” while police were “trying to push away people from the headquarters of the electricity company.”

Al-Bazm added that al-Baba was taken to the Indonesian Hospital for treatment, and that al-Bazm paid the journalist a personal visit to “check on him and apologize.”

“Journalist Fares al-Ghoul, who works with the Associated Press, was not arrested or assaulted, his ID card was checked and we immediately returned his cell phone,” the statement said.

The Gaza Strip police also released a statement Friday, saying that they support “people’s right in peaceful protests in order to deliver a message to officials without harming the possessions of Palestinian people.”

Spokesperson of the Gaza police Ayman al-Batniji said that the march that took place in Jabaliya on Thursday was peaceful and people of all sectors of society took part.

He added that the police in the northern Gaza Strip secured all crossroads until the march was over, “but afterwards a group of those who wanted to change the course of the popular demand gathered and started throwing rocks at police vehicles, the police suppressed them; the activity ended with some injuries.”

Thursday marked the second consecutive day of protests in the besieged Gaza Strip, following an announcement by Gaza’s power authority stating that the blockaded enclave was only provided with 200 megawatts of electricity, only 45 percent of the 450 megawatts needed to fully supply power to Gaza.

Protesters have called on all relevant authorities to find a permanent solution to the protracted issue, which has seriously affected Palestinians suffering under the nearly decade-long Israeli blockade.

Gaza residents have struggled under ever-growing daily power cuts during the cold winter months.

In a statement released Saturday, Gaza’s electricity company said that most districts of the small Palestinian territory were only receiving power for three-hour intervals in between 12-hour power cuts, due to severe fuel shortages.

While the entry of fuel into the Gaza Strip on Sunday raised hopes for some relief from the power shortages, the frequent power cuts create dangerous environments for Palestinians attempting to keep warm in the winter or needing light during the night, with a number of fires breaking out since the beginning of the year.

Gaza’s usual electricity schedule alternates eight hours of power followed by eight hours without.

Even at full capacity, Egyptian and Israeli electricity grids, together with Gaza's sole power plant, fail to cover the Gaza Strip’s energy needs.

The power plant has not run at full capacity in years, with Israel's crippling blockade severely limiting fuel imports into the coastal enclave.

The enclave's severe electricity shortages over the years have exacerbated the already dire living conditions in the small Palestinian territory.

War has also taken its toll, and during Israel's 50-day offensive on Gaza in 2014, the power plant was targeted, completely knocking it out of commission.

The UN has warned that the Gaza Strip would become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and nearly a decade of Israel's blockade.

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